See taxi driver’s dreamy photo compilations of Japan at night

Issui Enomoto knows Tokyo and Yokohama’s nooks and crannies intimately.

For greater than a decade, the 43-year-old taxi driver has photographed the 2 cities’ shape-shifting qualities from his automotive because the traffic lights turn red, or while he waits for his next passenger.

In a single image, two schoolgirls on bicycles ride across a zebra crossing as lights dart around them like fireflies. In one other, a girl disappears down a dimly-lit Yokohama street flanked on either side by shops.

Enomoto takes photographs throughout his night shift, then overlays multiple shots to create a dreamlike effect with various exposures. The resulting pictures offer ethereal glimpses of people before they fade into the night.

The photographer’s work has been exhibited as a part of a gaggle show on the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. He has also had solo shows at smaller, independent spaces akin to Tokyo’s Gallery Kan.

Inspired by European painters akin to Vincent van Gogh and Francisco Goya, the pictures hint on the loneliness of taxi drivers who cruise the streets with strangers. In Japan, drivers don’t often engage in conversation unless the passenger speaks first.

Enomoto’s work captures these transient, unspoken encounters with passengers — and even just passersby.

“I like taking photographs of passengers or commuters — individuals who I do not know,” said Enomoto. “I capture them after they pass by my vehicle. They’re like a mirrored image of me as I can see something of myself in the person who passes.”

Recreating memories

Enomoto grew up in Tokyo but selected to live in Yokohama out of nostalgia for a bygone era. He said he’s drawn to the older, wood buildings — those that have not yet been replaced by reinforced concrete mansions within the earthquake-prone city. He is particularly drawn to the flickering green, neon and red lights adorning the shops and streets of Yokohama’s downtown shopping district.

“The scenery of Tokyo that I grew up with is sort of gone. Yokohama jogs my memory of the older points of Tokyo that not exist,” said Enomoto, who starts his shift around 11 a.m. and keeps driving until the early hours.

Enomoto grew up in Tokyo but selected to be based in Yokohama out of nostalgia for a bygone era. Credit: Issui Enomoto

Enomoto has no formal training in the humanities. Photography began as a hobby when his mother gave him a compact camera as a teen.

He used it to photograph the sky and scenery from the window of their Tokyo apartment. After stints at a restaurant, food processing factory and design company, Enomoto decided 15 years ago to consider his craft. He thought taxi driving would offer a stable income while allowing him to pursue his passion of capturing shifting urban landscapes.

Over time, Enomoto has experimented with different photographic styles.

He used to ask certain passengers if he could take their photograph at the tip of every journey. If the passenger wanted, he showed them the photograph on his digital camera and emailed them the shot. Nonetheless, Enomoto soon became dissatisfied with how staged these images seemed.

“Every time I interacted with a passenger, I felt like I used to be changing the connection between us,” he said. “It didn’t feel like an organic occurrence anymore.”

So after just two years, he shifted back to capturing more transient moments.

The world seen from a taxi

Ten years ago, Enomoto began photo-editing single shots that he had captured and layered them on top of each other to create a dreamy effect. The resulting pictures, he said, more accurately captures how he remembers landscapes, landmarks and folks.

“The cameras of today capture every little thing in high resolution, but I felt there was a difference between what I took with my camera and my memory,” said Enomoto. “I wanted to precise my memory through photography, and felt the blurry effect seen through the double- and multiple-exposure method expressed that more so than a single photograph.”

The visceral effect of being both a voyeur and a transitory participant of two worlds is visible in Enomoto's work.

The visceral effect of being each a voyeur and a transitory participant of two worlds is visible in Enomoto’s work. Credit: Issui Enomoto

A woman walks in a residential area in Yokohama as the city's bright lights shine over her.

A lady walks in a residential area in Yokohama as town’s brilliant lights shine over her. Credit: Issui Enomoto

At one point, Enomoto tried taking shots of individuals, landmarks and landscapes from outside of his taxi. But every time, the shot fell in need of his expectations. “The scene never looked as beautiful as I assumed it had appeared from contained in the taxi, so eventually, I focused on capturing the shot through the window pane.”

The approach has worked.

The visceral effect of being each a voyeur and a transitory participant is visible in Enomoto’s work. In a single shot, a crowd of busy Tokyoites rush by, the ripples reflected on his wet windscreen streaking past them like strobe lights. They feel concurrently close yet distant.

Seeing something recent within the familiar

Enomoto said he sometimes edits shots in his taxi — sometimes on the identical day they were taken — while waiting for brand spanking new passengers. He edits more complicated images at home, taking time to pore over photographs taken over several days of driving.

Enomoto photographs festivals in Japan's northern regions, saying it gives him an insight into local life.

Enomoto photographs festivals in Japan’s northern regions, saying it gives him an insight into local life. Credit: Issui Enomoto

Lately, Enomoto has also attached a camera to his dashboard because it lets him document the whole thing of his journey. “Once I’m with a passenger, I might see a shot I liked but I could not take my hands off the wheel,” he said. “I take stills from the dashcam afterwards. I miss nothing that way.”

But finding recent inspiration familiar streets can, sometimes, prove difficult. So to refresh his gaze, Enomoto occasionally heads as much as northern Japan to photograph traditional festivals like Sansa Odori, a standard dance festival in Iwate prefecture, and the lantern festival in Yuzuwa city, in Akita prefecture.

“Once I come back to (Yokohoma), I see familiar landscapes in a brand new light,” said Enomoto. “As a taxi driver, I do pass the identical places multiple times, however the weather and the people on the streets are all the time different.”

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